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Unpicking The FIA WEC Announcements

DSC looks at the key points from yesterday's news

With so much announced today at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, there’s plenty to analyse, and frankly, understand, after taking a few deep breaths and stepping away.

Here’s a look, in the clearest possible terms, at what we’ve been told is going to happen over the next few years in the FIA World Endurance Championship:

1. The caravan is firmly hitched to LMP1

An immediate takeaway from the news concerning the LMP1 regulations is this: that the ACO and FIA feel that the DPi formula or an enhanced LMP2 class, isn’t the best way forward for them.

There is no current demand from factories wishing to pursue the current DPi concept in the FIA WEC. And, just as importantly, the FIA and ACO, at present, feel that it would be wrong to undermine the efforts of the confirmed and potential newcomers for next year and see potential for the unified LMP1 class. It’s clear that they feel that it needs room to grow with both manufacturers and privateer teams, with the current LMP2 regulations still attracting strong and indeed growing support.

DSC says: “Despite much public comment on this matter, there is zero evidence of any current manufacturer interest in bringing the DPi concept to the FIA WEC. The ACO has made a clear decision to support its LMP1 concept, both in hybrid and non-hybrid form, which intends to keep it separate from LMP2, which it still sees as a pro/am formula.”

2. Hybrid tech is still a key part of the future!

Despite Audi and Porsche pulling the plug on their Hybrid LMP1 efforts, and reports of the class’ demise as a result, the ACO remains convinced that there is still real demand for Hybrid LMP1 racing to continue, in some form.

Peripheral statements seem to indicate high levels of confidence that Toyota, Peugeot and possibly one other could commit to revised regulations as early as the 2019/2020 season. However, it was made clear by the FIA WEC CEO Gerard Neveu, that Toyota as things stand, would not be granted Le Mans entries in 2018 or 2019, unless it committed to the full FIA WEC.

Toyota Gazoo Racing has told DSC that it needs time to consider yesterday’s statements and that it is likely to make a decision and public statement next month.

Manufacturer involvement in an non-hybrid programme in LMP1 would be embraced too.

It is clear that the ACO and FIA WEC, are very confident that the 2019/2020 season will see at least Peugeot involved with a factory hybrid programme

DSC says: “It is clear that the ACO and FIA WEC, are very confident that the 2019/2020 season will see at least Peugeot involved with a factory hybrid programme. Whether or not the insistence that Toyota must commit to a full 2018/19 FIA WEC programme has any impact on that, remains to be seen.”

3. The calendar is going to look very different for a few years

The decision to make a switch to a winter-based schedule was clearly made rapidly, but it was a decision that they intended to consider in the near future. Instead, the opportunity to reset the WEC came now, and was endorsed and approved by the FIA in four weeks.

Effectively this has to be examined in two parts, as a transition, and steady state.

The transitional 2018/2019 “Super Season” will include eight races, two of which will be six-hour races at Spa, and two runnings of the Le Mans 24 Hours, plus a return to Fuji and Shanghai, an unconfirmed venue in 2019 and a 12-hour race at Sebring immediately following IMSA’s traditional enduro.

The Sebring race will also be a 12-hour event, but starting at midnight, just two hours after the end of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

The calendar has been designed to reduce freight and running costs, which means there’s potential for significant reduction in budgets.

DSC says: “The transition to a winter calendar was always going to be a massive challenge. And the disappearance of some well established events is a shock but not a total surprise.

“The viability of the logistics at least of the surprise package that is a second 12 Hours of Sebring is a very open question. But it’s a clear attempt by the FIA WEC to create a second blue riband event on the calendar, something which at the moment, it clearly lacks.

“The reduction to seven events in steady state to 2019/2020, is a near inevitable effect of a big drive to reduce cost, and attract new teams from both the manufacturer privateer ranks.

It will be a hard task to reduce budgets for the Pro/Am teams though, with a single season requiring teams to run Le Mans twice and a 12-hour at Sebring. That, coupled with the quick turnaround from the end of the 2018/19 season to the start of the 2019/20 season, means planning in advance and strong cashflow will be even more key for teams to compete for multiple seasons going forward.”

4. Le Mans is now the WEC’s finale

With Le Mans acting as the finale to the WEC, the intention is clearly is to have the most significant event last on the calendar.

The Le Mans 24 Hours, (and the new Sebring 12 Hours) will both have ‘Enhanced Points’, but Le Mans will no longer be a double points round. The final decision for the points systems will be announced in due course.

DSC says: “The move from a double points format, makes this an entirely more sensible move than the earlier proposals. It will have taken something to persuade the FIA against its earlier position, not to see ‘its’ world champions, overshadowed by the winners of a standalone race, however enormous. It will be a massively different feel to the FIA WEC, when we’re racing in front of 250,000 + spectators in France.

“Some will see the deciding of the titles, would be diminished to some degree at least, while others will feel it’s an entirely appropriate finale.”

5. Multiple races have been dropped

Silverstone, whilst not featuring in the 2018/2019 “Super Season”, is still under consideration for later years.

After the “Super Season” the WEC will settle for a reduction of rounds to seven, from 2020 onwards, a reduction of two on the current level.

Bahrain, CoTA and Nürburgring meanwhile, look set to be permanent losses. Whilst Mexico City, could still be in the mix for the February race, though several other venues including Sepang and known to be interested in hosting a WEC race.

DSC says: “As an organisation, and as individuals, DSC has been at every FIA WEC race, it has seen how well supported some of these have become, how loyal the fanbase has been, and how well or otherwise the circuits, promotors, sponsors, media, manufacturers and private teams, have helped to develop these events.

“Some will be missed more than others, but there may be opportunities for some to regain their space, when the championship has past its transition season, in 2019/20. It’s important to see the difference between the transition, and what’s set to come later.”

5. Non-hybrids are set to go toe-to-toe with the hybrids

An increased emphasis on the importance and potential of LMP1 non-hybrid as part of a single class is being assisted with revised technical regulations that should see non-hybrid cars capable of similar lap times to the hybrids, via increased fuel allocation (better fuel flow allowing the cars more power)

Hybrids though, will continue to have an advantage through the efficiency in their powertrains, capable of running longer stints, and making fewer stops. Specific mention was made of the appeal of non-hybrid LMP1 to smaller manufacturers, with Gerard Neveu confirming that there was current contact with factories interested in learning more of the proposals for that formula.

DSC is delighted that the ACO and the FIA WEC have shown loyalty to those that have committed to the new generation of non-hybrid LMP1s

Most importantly, hybrid and non-hybrid LMP1s will henceforth compete in a single class.

DSC says: “DSC is delighted that the ACO and the FIA WEC have shown loyalty to those that have committed to the new generation of non-hybrid LMP1s. The uncertainty in recent weeks, has been very tough for those manufacturers and their potential customers.

“Clarity, and indeed potentially greatly enhanced competitive opportunities for these cars, and some unexpected additional players in the market as a result, will finally prove whether or not LMP1 has a place moving into the second decade of this century, alongside IMSA’s DPi model.

“The announcements made today make it clear that on performance terms alone, the door is wide open, for a privateer to win the Le Mans 24 Hours, and an FIA World Championship.”

6. The LMP1 Manufactuerer’s World Championship is back on?

Gerard Neveu confirmed that subject to payment of the relevant fee, he saw no reason why a small manufacturer could not enter the Manufacturer’s World Championship via an LMP1 non-hybrid programme, whether the cars were run by privateers or full factory teams.

That potentially means, that with or without Toyota, there could be still a prospect of an LMP1 Manufacturer’s World Championship in 2018/19.

DSC says: “We’ll wait and see what transpires here, but its clear that the FIA WEC is very aware of the potential importance of the retention of their current range of world titles to the teams, drivers and manufacturers of whatever size. Success on the world stage a badge of pride for any minnow!”

7. Budgets are still a big factor

There is a strong emphasis on budgets for all the announcements, with an emphasis on cost reduction. Pierre Fillon and Gerard Neveu both clearly acknowledged that LMP1 Hybrid budgets are no longer sustainable. Neveu specifically mentioned that the 2019/20 (seven races) would see an LMP2 team able to race with similar budgets to 2016, 20% down on 2017.

That reduction would be achieved with reduced entry fees (fewer races), reduced running costs (fewer races) and via the use of more sea freight as opposed to air freight (typically 10-20% of the air freight option). (GTE teams however have told DSC that their costs will increase in the transition season).

DSC says: “Cost control with any manufacturer-oriented formula is all too often an unobtainable dream. There has been some acknowledgement here of a wrong turn or two and some aspects of the cost reduction plan going forward show more realism than previous attempts. The balance that must be drawn though is the appeal of a format for competitors and the budgets necessary to deliver it.”

8. GTE is set to continue its current rate of growth

Five full-factory teams are confirmed for 2018/19 (Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Porsche and Ford) with others in advanced discussions. There will be no GTE qualifying race on the day prior to Raceday for the “Super Season”, that decision in part informed by manufacturers offering concerns on additional costs. The proposal though, remains on the table for the future.

Some degree of hybridisation and or electrification of GTE, will be discussed for future GTE regulation cycles, with absolutely no time frame allocated for that process.

However Pierre Fillon made specific mention that with increasing factory interest, that efforts need to be made on keeping a cap on technical spending.

DSC Says: “Here’s here the major challenge of keeping multiple factory entries happy remains. There is some helpful realism that some level of electrification needs to be considered for the future, but some real anxiety about how easy it might be or otherwise to keep manufacturer spending under control.”

9. The Prologue takes on a whole new look

As of next year, Circuit Paul Ricard will again hold the pre-season Prologue test, after a year off. This time, the format will see a major change, instead of two sessions during one day, the Prologue will be a constant 36-hour test session for the teams.

This means that Monza, will not feature on the WEC’s schedule of the transition season at least, the shift in test format has played a major part in that move, despite Monza being universally popular the local noise constraints mean that the new test format cannot be accommodated.

The move for the Prologue to Monza was a success, but equally the shift to a continuous 36 hour test is a smart one, putting testing usually behind closed doors very much more in the public eye

Paul Ricard meanwhile is set to see an ELMS race following on from the test in the days following, with a high likelihood of a number of FIA WEC season entrants also contesting the ELMS race as guest entries.

The Silverstone ELMS race too looks secure, but not as the season opener!

DSC says: “The move for the Prologue to Monza was a success, but equally the shift to a continuous 36 hour test is a smart one, putting testing usually behind closed doors very much more in the public eye. The impact on guest entries for the ELMS race the following weekend is likely to be a positive one.

After the disappointment for many of the Silverstone WEC race losing a slot for 2018/19 the apparent retention of the ELMS race will be at least some succour.”

10. The 2020 regulations are set for a major re-think

A rapid and pragmatic decision has been made to simplify the 2020 LMP1 regulations with an intention to roll these out for the 2019/2020 FIA WEC season.

Gone already is the proposal to have the cars begin each stint from pit lane with 1 km under electric power and that for the cars finishing Le Mans to do so under pure electric power too.

Beyond that there is further work underway with high levels of confidence of engagement from at least two factory hybrid teams

DSC Says: “The FIA WEC cannot afford to be surprised again in the manner that Porsche’s LMP1 ‘volte face’ emerged. Regulations that relate directly to what the manufacturers want rather than too high a pressure to stretch the tech envelope make sense right now. Pride should not get in the way of common sense.”

11. There’s a new openness to change

There were changes made, albeit minor, between the 2pm meeting yesterday with team principals, and the 3:30 media briefing, notably the as yet unannounced/ undecided race dated for February 2019 was changed from january after the intervention of Porsche who pointed out that Daytona’s position on the global calendar should not be encroached upon.

Several teams have offered the opinion that this, and other minor tweaks show that the ACO and FIA WEC are making real efforts to adopt a much more inclusive attitude to their planning.

More of that may well be required as there are further concerns over calendar clashes, principally with the 2018 IMSA calendar, and in particular a direct clash between the Fuji race and Petit Le Mans. Interestingly though every person that has commented upon the clash has immediately offered a view that they have little doubt that a change can and will be made.

DSC says: “DSC has long called for every major championship to display a much more customer-focused attitude to the teams that form their grids. This marks a small but highly significant and welcome change in the tone and content of the communication between the Championship organisers and their customers.

“Long may it continue.”